He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew 18:2-4) NIV
My mom grew up Catholic and had a little prayer book she would take with her to Mass when she was in school. When I was nine, I don’t remember if she gave it to me or I just happened upon it, but it ended up in my possession. How I acquired this prayer book is the only fuzzy part of this memory.
Neither of my parents went to church when they married, so I was never raised in a church. I went to church when I visited my mom’s parents in Long Island, New York, every few years, but that was about it. I remember going with my grandmother and telling her that I thought it was boring. She told me to follow along in the missal so I would know where we were in the service. She thought that would magically make it more interesting for me. I still didn’t get it, and she couldn’t convince me otherwise.
One night while lying in my bed, I opened my mom’s prayer book and started to read its pages. When I did, I felt something. What I felt wasn’t because someone was telling me what I should believe. It wasn’t a building of people telling me how I should worship. It was God in my hands as I laid open His words telling me who He was as I read the prayers to myself. I was bundled up under the covers against the cold Milwaukee winter’s night and held words I had never read before.
Who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
These words were strange to me and didn’t roll off my tongue very easily, but I was mesmerized by them. My nine-year-old brain was asking God, “Did you really write this?” I tried to say it over and over again waiting for it to make sense. The way it read sounded odd, so I decided to change all of the thy’s into the’s. That sounded even worse.
I settled on the fact that God probably knew what He was doing, so I kept it how it was written even though I didn’t fully grasp their meaning.
I looked at that little prayer book the next night as well. By the third night, I had this prayer memorized. I laid my head on the pillow, closed my eyes, and recited these magical words. In my child’s heart, I knew they were important. They must be if God said them.
After a few nights, I felt like I was supposed to do more than just recite the prayer. By this time, I had memorized the Hail Mary as well. Again, I had no idea what I was saying, but the words felt peaceful to me. I had heard them in church when I visited my grandma, so they must be important. I was in awe of how easily they came to me and savored how they sounded.
One thing that confused me when I visited my grandma’s church, though, was while I was there, I felt fearful towards God, but while talking to Him at night, I felt completely calm and peaceful in His presence. I couldn’t rationalize how I could feel so differently about God while attending at my grandma’s church. The reason may have had to do with the formality of their service, or maybe when I acted like myself (a kid) I was hushed and glared upon. Maybe the organ music mournfully bellowing in my ears or the choir’s echoing voices rising straight up and out through the ceiling scared me. I didn’t know why I did—I just did.
I remember lying in my bed and talking to God one evening. By this point, we were having conversations, and I was trying to get to know Him. I had my own routine of how I talked to God. In my kid brain, I felt having a routine was important and the honoring thing to do. I was trying to still do church in my head.
I opened up with the “Our Father,” followed by my conversational ramblings about my day, hopes, and fears, and wrapped it all up with the “Hail Mary.” That felt right to me, so that’s what I did. I didn’t ask anyone what I should do or if this was even the correct way. Everything I did was lead by Him, and I can see that clearly now when I look back towards the bedroom I still carry in my memories.
After saying the “Our Father” one night, I worked up the courage to tell God that I wasn’t afraid of Him. I didn’t think I should be afraid of Him and wanted Him to be my friend. This had really been bothering me, and I talked with Him about this for an awfully long time that night. I gave God an out and told Him that He could go on to some other kid’s thoughts if He needed to since I was taking up so much of His time. I didn’t understand about the omnipresence of God, yet. That night, I felt like He stayed with me until the end, though.
He was and is my friend. I’ve wrestled with my faith, I’ve fought against His ways, and I’ve questioned my resolve to follow Him throughout the years, but just as I was a child praying in my bed, I have never felt that God left me to move on to something more important. I feel like He is here still and will stay with me until the end.
He is our Dad, and I am forever grateful He put that prayer book into my hand as a kid. I felt like it was our first introduction: “Crista, this is your Father, Jesus. Jesus, this is your child, Crista.” God found a skinny, awkward nine-year-old girl lying in her bed one night, asked me to follow Him, and I did without giving it a second thought.
Psalm 139:13-16 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you,when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.